Common Ground and other stories by Mackey Chandler, and Xeelee Vengeance, by Stephen Baxter. Both selected as Books of the Month sometime this year in the Goodreads Space Opera Group. Both good reads. One short and funny, one long and needing concentration. But they got me to my target of Interstellar Explorer on the Spacetime Reading Challenge, and Xeelee was my last book for the Alphabet Soup this year.
Common Ground and Other Stories
by Mackey Chandler
A collection of seven stories from a single page to a novella by the same author. (goodreads)
The blurb, as well as the cover, tip you off that this is an indie published book, from the earlier days of indie publishing. You have to be far more professional these days!
The content, especially the first story, is well worth getting past the homonyms and other editing faults. It’s an enjoyable romp, much of it in space, and most of it involving aliens. Great aliens. Sometimes aliens from their perspective, looking at life on Earth (I loved that one). The first one is definitely the best of all, and also the longest. The last two are very short. It’s a collection worth reading.
Xeelee Vengeance (Xeelee Sequence #16)
by Stephen Baxter
Half a million years in the future, on a dead, war-ravaged world at the centre of the Galaxy, there is a mile-high statue of Michael Poole.
Poole, born on Earth in the fourth millennium, was one of mankind’s most influential heroes. He was not a warrior, not an emperor. He was an engineer, a builder of wormhole transit systems. But Poole’s work would ultimately lead to a vast and destructive conflict, a million-year war between humanity and the enigmatic, powerful aliens known as the Xeelee.
The Xeelee won, but at a huge cost. And, defeated in a greater war, the Xeelee eventually fled the universe. Most of them.
A handful were left behind, equipped with time travel capabilities, their task to tidy up: to reorder history more to the Xeelee’s liking. That million-year war with humankind was one blemish. It had to be erased. And in order to do that, a lone Xeelee was sent back in time to remove Michael Poole from history . . . (goodreads)
Stephen Baxter’s worldbuilding is second to none. He has done his homework to extrapolate an Earth system some 1500 years in the future, with all the wars and history and social changes, plus climate change impacts. And he makes sure you know it. Every now and then he gives the reader a good grounding in the history, technology and sociology of why the situation he is describing is happening. The descriptions are brilliant. The information dump less so. I learned to skim them.
There is nothing wrong with having your future worlds fully developed and based on real science, expected science, or viable pseudo-science. It’s what science fiction is all about. Most of his work here is amazing, especially the transformation of worlds by internal energy. Some events, though, irritated me, partly because he ignores his own sea-level changes and leaves Kent’s beaches much as they were, and he also ignores the geology of the Canary Islands, which are not on a shallow shelf, but are seamounts. He has done his calculations for the tsunami, and so have I, as part of my work in the early 2000s. So I was irritated by the mismatch in his world-building. And it put me off some of the events that followed too. But most of it is brilliantly imagined and written.
The basic problem for me, was that this epic work looks like a normal size paperback, but is printed in small, single line spaced font, so I had to use my strongest glasses, an excellent light, and sometimes a magnifying glass. Having got through to part six of the book, I was beginning to wonder why I was reading it. I didn’t care a jot about Michael Poole or any of the rest of them.
The blurb finally reminded me it might be worth seeing how it all came about. Then again…Two Scifi Reviews | Common Ground + Xeelee Vengeance: pretty much the chalk and cheese of #spaceopera Or maybe it's #marmite #scifi @RedShirtRental Click To Tweet
2 thoughts on “Two Scifi Reviews | Common Ground + Xeelee Vengeance”
Hmm. Sounds like they both have annoying flaws. I wonder if I could get past the editing issues in the story collection to enjoy the stories. Stephen Baxter teamed with Terry Pratchett to write the “Long Earth” series–and I’m not that crazy about them, especially after the first couple of them. And I think you put your finger on it–amazing world-building, but not characters you can really care about.
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